Title: It's just the past you're leaving
Fandom: The Shell House
Summary: [The Shell House] Sometimes a shock is needed to make you realise.
Disclaimer: Characters and setting are Linda Newbery's, title is from Guillemot's "I Must Be A Lover"
"Your mum said you'd gone out; thought you might be here." Greg walked towards where Jordan was sitting and heard him huff out a breath.
"I wanted to have some time alone. Home's too busy." Jordan's voice sounded far away. Greg sat down beside him, the concrete cold through his jeans. He didn't look at Jordan, just looked out over the ha-ha at the fields.
"Are you okay?" Greg asked to fill the silence that had grown. Jordan let out a slightly bitter laugh.
"Yeah, I'm fine Greg. Thanks for asking." Greg bit his tongue and glanced over at Jordan, at the white cast covering his left arm from bicep to wrist and keeping his elbow bent.
A lump grew in his throat as he remembered that morning last week. He had arrived on the main street just in time to see Jordan being carried into the ambulance. He was still kind of glad he had missed the accident. A kid running down the street had pushed Jordan out of the way just in time to make him fall into the path of a car. That was what Greg had gathered from talking to witnesses, anyway.
He had biked over to the McAuliffe's as quickly as possible and just caught them hurrying out of the house. Stuart had told Greg briefly about the accident, they'd just had word from the hospital, and told Greg they would phone as soon as they could.
The hours after that were a bit of a blur for him. He went home and floated around, starting a number of things but abandoning them soon after and snapping at Katy. It felt like the night when Dean had fallen, his mind was all over the place and his heart hammering in his chest. If he hadn't been meeting Jordan it would never have happened; if he hadn't been running late Jordan wouldn't have been there; he couldn't stop the guilt rising in him, starting hot and tight in his stomach and reaching up to grip his throat, making it difficult to breathe and impossible to talk. The one constant at the time was his thought of Please let him be okay.
Everyone at home had been staying out of his way for hours when the phone rang. The sound seemed as loud and sudden as a gun shot, and Greg jumped before reaching to answer it. Jordan had a broken arm, some bruising, and a mild concussion. They needed to operate on his arm, but otherwise he was fine. Stuart sounded drained, but was happy it was nothing more serious.
Greg had gone to visit him in the ward the next day. He had come out of the operation that morning and was dozing fitfully. He looked awful: deep purple bags under his eyes and a livid bruise on his forehead stark against pale skin and white hospital sheets. Jordan had made a weak joke about Michelle being glad that she finally had the chance to visit him in hospital for a change, and Greg had to laugh to stop tears rolling down his cheeks.
He looked better a week on, out in the fresh air, although his eyes were still dark and the bruise had faded to a blue-greenish colour. He was staring resolutely out at the horizon as Greg looked at him.
"Sorry, that was a stupid question." Greg said, and Jordan looked at him as if he'd forgotten he was there.
"No, it's fine Greg. I'm still getting used to it." He paused, a grimace on his face. "I had to walk up here because I couldn't ride my bike." He snorted and shook his head. "Listen to me, sitting here moaning about not being able to ride my bike when Dean can't even get out of bed yet."
"It's okay to be upset. You can't compare yourself with Dean, it's not fair." He smiled to himself and nudged Jordan with his shoulder. "You've always had the better end of the deal: you're not a horrible little yob and you're not ginger." That did something: Jordan laughed and gave him a small smile.
"I got some news today." Jordan said after a while. "The competition I swam in the other week got me through to qualifications for the world championships." His voice was strained, Greg thought it might break. "It's the biggest opportunity I've ever had, it's been my dream for so many years and I have to throw it away because of a stupid accident." He breathed in sharply, and Greg could see his eyes watering. "I have to stop training; I can't even get in the pool for a month or more. I'm losing fitness and just letting it slip by, I might never get the chance again."
Greg looked at him; took in the bright, red-rimmed eyes, the serious brow turned into a frown, and the teeth worrying at the lower lip. A tear rolled down Jordan's face and he wiped it away quickly. Greg pretended not to see it.
"I'm sorry." Greg said, looking away from Jordan finally. "I can't imagine how that must… but it's not such a long time. You'll be back on form before you know it."
"I won't be able to straighten my arm for at least a month, Greg." Jordan was looking at him now, and there was no anger in his voice, just resignation. "It'll take weeks of physio before I'll be able to get it working properly again, and who knows how long after that to get back to fitness."
"You'll be ready for the next time, though." Greg tried not to make it sound like a question.
"I don't know. I might have been as good as I was ever going to get, and now it's gone."
"I know that's not right. You're a brilliant swimmer, Jordan. You're only eighteen; you can't give up because of a stupid accident." He put an arm around Jordan's shoulders before he thought about it, and felt Jordan stiffen for a moment before relaxing.
"I'm not- I'd never give it up. I just… I don't know what to do if I'm not swimming. It's like a part of me's been taken away."
"Don't talk like that. You know you're more than that." He pulled Jordan closer to his side, looked round at his face and waited for Jordan to look back at him. "You're the smartest person I know, and the kindest. And you're so determined. You'll be out of the game for a few months, then you'll train harder than ever and you'll get there the next time, or to the Olympics, or the Commonwealth Games." Jordan opened his mouth, but Greg didn't let him speak. "I'm not just saying that to make you feel better."
"Thanks." Jordan gave a breath of laughter, and Greg rested their heads together.
"I was really scared, you know. I got there just in time to see you being carried off in the ambulance." He wasn't really sure what to say after that, so they both sat in silence, not uncomfortably.
"There was a second when I thought I was going to die." Jordan's voice was quiet. "Just after that kid pushed me into the road when I saw the car coming at me. I just thought, 'this is it. Michelle might get that kidney after all'. It wasn't that scary, it was more like 'oh, right, this is how it happens'."
"I'm glad Michelle has to wait for her kidney." Greg spoke before he even realised. Jordan laughed a little again, and Greg couldn't help but smile. "That sounds terrible, but you know what I mean." Greg realised he was still sitting with his arm around Jordan, their heads still resting together. He sat back slowly and ruffled Jordan's hair. "Come on, I'm freezing my arse off here. We can just go for a walk if you don't feel up to going home."
"No, I think I'm okay. It's late enough now, anyway." Jordan sighed and stood up; his arm in a sling, his jacket awkwardly zipped up over it, the spare sleeve hanging loose. Greg had almost forgotten about the cast.
He looked around and realised it was getting dark; the sun was almost below the distant hills, the sky to the east slowly turning cobalt blue. They started walking towards the drive, Greg taking his bike from its hiding place and walking alongside Jordan. They walked quietly for a while, Greg's bike clicking lightly as he pushed it, until Jordan spoke.
"Thanks, Greg. I needed that." He turned and smiled at Greg, small, but warm and sincere. Greg didn't remember seeing Jordan's defences so low in months.
"What are friends for, eh?" He sighed. "I think I owe you a few after the way I treated you last year, anyway." Jordan shook his head and closed his eyes.
"Don't bring that up again, please."
"Sorry." Greg bit his lip and looked back at his feet, hitting rhythmically against the gravel of the path. "I didn't mean any of it."
"I know." Jordan looked back at him with that same smile. "It did hurt, though."
He kept eye contact with Greg as he said it, not accusingly, though, but Greg still felt the guilt tight in his stomach. He knew it was an incident he would never forget, that even in ten years he would torment himself thinking about what he should have done differently, what he should have said. It was in the past now, though, and both he and Jordan seemed to have realised there was no use worrying over it.
He still felt the need to talk about it, though, and couldn't stop himself. "I was confused and angry at myself." He looked down at the handlebars of the bike as he pushed it along and played with the rubber of the grip. "I took it out on you, and I'm sorry."
"I know," Jordan said, his voice gentle, "it's okay. I'm over it, Greg, so should you be."
"It's just… when you had the accident all I could think about was how horrible I had been to you. It wasn't fair." Jordan sighed and stopped walking. He turned to face Greg with serious eyes.
"Greg, we all do things we're not proud of. I'll admit it, what you said really hurt me, after I'd… well, after I'd bared my soul to you like that." He sighed and rubbed his arm, just above his cast. "But it was a year ago. I've let it go, it's time you did, too."
"Thanks." He smiled at Jordan in the fading light. He must have grown, Greg thought absurdly, as he seemed taller than he remembered.
"Are you less confused now, anyway?" What did Jordan mean? Greg looked at him for a moment before answering, hoping for some kind of clue, but Jordan was as inscrutable as ever.
"I don't know. I think so." He had tried not to think about it, if he was honest with himself. "As unconfused as I'll ever be, I think." Jordan nodded and started walking again. Greg switched on the lights on his bike. The night had closed in around them.
"Have you come to any conclusions?" The only signal he could pick up on that Jordan was nervous was that he wasn't looking at him. He was walking along, trailing his uninjured hand along the leaves at the side of the road, his head high and looking straight ahead.
"Not really. I'm just trying not to worry as much." Greg gave a shrug as he answered. Jordan smiled and nodded a little. He glanced over at Greg again and caught his eyes.
"The offer's still open, if you change your mind." Greg nodded and looked ahead again. He swallowed the lump in his throat.
"I… I don't know. I'll think about it." He felt heat rise in his cheeks and shook his head to try and get rid of it. "I really like you, Jordan. You're my best friend. I don't want to promise you something I can't give you, but I'll think about it."
Jordan turned to him and gave him a smile he'd never seen before, open and honest and optimistic. They had stopped walking, and were looking at each other with Greg's bike between them, the lights flickering on their chins and making the circles under Jordan's eyes look more severe than they were. Jordan's smile lingered, and Greg could see that he understood.